Understanding more about the wine in our glass, enhances wine and food pairings. So dig into the essence of Bordeaux for delectable pairings of Wine & 2 Veg.
Bordeaux wine is a big and global business; 12 bottles of Bordeaux are purchased every second somewhere in the world. It generates around 4 billion euros turnover per year and employs 55,000 people in the region, directly or indirectly. There are 109,700 hectares (about 271,000 acres) under vine, divided between about 5,500 wine producers. Between them, they produce around 550 million bottles per year.
Bordeaux is about four times the size of Burgundy and represents 15% of total French wine production. The average property size is 19.8 hectares (about 49 acres).
Where is Bordeaux?
Bordeaux is in the South-West of France. It straddles the 45th parallel, about 50kms inland from the Atlantic coast. The city is at the heart of the region, that reaches about 80 kilometres to the North up the Médoc peninsular, 80 kilometres to the South-East, 100kms to the East towards the Dordogne and only 20 kilometres to the West to the airport, where a few token vines are planted to welcome visitors.
Climate & Geography
Proximity to the ocean means Bordeaux has a temperate maritime climate and the warm Gulf Stream helps protect vineyards from late spring frosts, which can wreak havoc while bringing a lot of rain: up to 950mm per year.
The ocean also brings rain: between 700 to 800 mm per year.
This climate normally allows a long, slow ripening period with cooler nights developing complexity in the grapes. It’s also unpredictable, no two years (vintages) have the exact same weather pattern, hence no two are ever exactly the same. This certainly presents a new challenge every year – doesn’t it, Sally?
Two large rivers drain the region. La Garonne runs from the Pyrenees in the South and is joined by La Dordogne from the east to create La Gironde Estuary. This large body of water is over 10 kilometres wide at its widest point.
The presence of these waterways divides the region up into three areas: Left Bank – nearest the ocean to the West, Right Bank further East and the bit in the middle called the Entre-Deux-Mers. Entre-Deux-Mers literally means between two tides (marées).
Terroir is defined as a symbiotic relationship of soil, subsoil, climate and the influence of the wine maker. It influences the vines mainly through water and nutrition. A pine forest was planted along the coast in the 19th century to stabilise the marshy and sandy land offering a protective barrier from ocean-born storms. Drainage is important, poorer, drier soils encourage the vines to concentrate on producing grapes rather than vegetative growth. The size of Bordeaux means there are many soil types.
The three main Bordeaux soil types are clay, limestone and gravel, often intermixed and varying in depth. Each soil type has a different mineral element but more importantly reacts differently with the climate. Wine producers choose grape varieties adapted to the soils from the permitted varieties.
Limestone is the bedrock of the entire region, made up of crushed sea shells from when Bordeaux was under the ocean for millions of years. Limestone is terrific for vines, soaking up and retaining excess water, then releasing it back when it’s hot and dry. Clay, gravel and sand lay on top of this bedrock.
Clay retains water, swelling up and constricting the vine roots, preventing them from taking up too much water. In very hot dry conditions, clay dries and cracks develop allowing roots to push down for water.
Gravel, often mixed with sand, allows water to run straight through, creating hydric stress. The loose soil allows the vines to push roots way down to look for water. It‘s a warm soil, due to the lack of surface water but also because the gravel tends to be light in colour with lots of quartz in the pebbles. These stones reflect the sunlight and heat back to the vines. they act like a storage heater, radiating heat through the cooler nights.
This introduction to Bordeaux is an excerpt from Bordeaux Bootcamp – Wendy’s Guide to Bordeaux Basics